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I want to build a simple discrete event simulation similar to the emergency room simulation shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6kCMBM-sZs

I have a few different types of people (carpenters, painters, and plumbers). Each one has to go follow a sequence of steps (buy the wood, polish it), each of which takes a certain amount of time (thirty minutes plus or minus 5 minutes). And stuff gets 'done' when all three have finished their work.

Is there a free tool that would allow me to simulate this? The visualization is not as important as the discrete event simulation itself.

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The Emergency Room Simulation linked in your question seems to have been produced using Arena from Rockwell Automation (incorporated in the FactoryTalk suite), which is far from being free (however their might be some special offers for students and academics but I did not look much into it).

You may find a list of discrete event simulation software here, some of them are free and even open-source.

My personal preference goes to SimPy for being a python module (easy to integrate with a visualization module like vpython, matplotlib or even pygame), being well documented with examples and tutorials, having some plotting capabilities and a programmable GUI.

(Disclaimer: I have some very simple needs in discrete simulation so I did not push the limits of the software I used)

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You could simulate that stuff with a queueing simulator. I happen to have used GPSS as an undergraduate (yes, I'm old).

There's a free GPSS student version for Windows here: http://www.minutemansoftware.com/downloads/GPSS/World/Student/Setup.msi

GCC can compile Simula.

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I don't know about the cartoon-like simulation that you want, but there is a mathematical formalism that has been applied to process modeling for manufacturing and other domains: Petri Nets. There are software-tools around that can run models based on petri nets and an active community of people that work with them: link.

Such a formalism would be useful if you want to determine/compare/explore particular characteristics about the behavior of a system composed of events (like in a factory).

The visual representation, I think, is another problem entirely but if you have "complete" information about the behavior of the system from a simulation, then it should be possible to generate something visual using any tool that is flexible enough, like maybe "processing" or "alice".

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